Current New Yorker Emma Melrose says finding a trustworthy contractor to renovate their 1929 three-story Georgian Colonial in Beverly Hills was so important to her and her husband, Joe, that they interviewed several before deciding on Kastler Construction. What clinched the deal was owner Rick Kastler taking the time to show them other older home renovations he had done and respect for their home’s existing features.
As a result, along with building a three-story addition and three-car garage, installing new hardwood floors and expanding the kitchen and master bedroom, Kastler restored the glass kitchen cabinet doors and their wood grilles, retained all of the original doors and arches in the home, rehung the dining room chandelier and in one room left untouched the Pewabic tile floor from the historic Detroit pottery.
“They restored it, but with modernized conveniences,” Emma Melrose says.
Kastler understands the importance of finding the right contractor, and blogs on his company web site that consumers should pick a firm that’s licensed, insured and experienced in the type of work they want done.
Staying in touch long-distance from her current home was challenging, Melrose says, but was made easier with electronic communications and monthly visits she made to the couple’s home state of Michigan.
Kastler points out that communication—like that with the Melroses—is key in his business. For that reason, he’s created a new position in the office for customer relations.
Also critical is honesty, Kastler says. Clients do but shouldn’t shy away from stating their budget for a project, and contractors should be upfront about costs. Otherwise, the deal can suffer from the HGTV effect, where remodeling costs are drastically understated on home renovation shows.
To be transparent, Kastler estimates budgets for typical projects on his new-lead form. For example, additions are a minimum of $200-250 per square foot, basements without a kitchen or bath start at $30 per square foot, and kitchens up to 150 square feet range from $40,000-60,000.
With a staff of five field employees, seven office staff and a roster of sub-contractors, Kastler Construction builds custom homes and additions and renovates whole homes along with remodeling bathrooms, kitchens, basements and exteriors. Trending now are additions to allow for large kitchens, family gathering space and master suites that can include a bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet and sitting area.
In 2017, the firm did $6.5 million worth of business and 2018 promises to remain as high, with four or five leads coming in every day, Kastler said. That’s more than double what the firm made 11 years ago, equivalent to about $3 million in today’s dollars accounting for inflation.
After 22 years, Kastler says he’s never tired of running his own firm. In fact, he spun off a sister firm, Visionary Cabinetry & Design, with partner Paul Kozicki.
“I actually love what I do,” he says. “I like the feeling of making people happy.”
425 S. Main Street
Clawson, MI 48017
Teiara Dandy stopped in at Paper Trail Books in Royal Oak on a recent Monday morning for the second day in a row.
She was there on Sunday with her fiancee, who scored three paperbacks in “The Forgotten Realms” series of science fiction.
Dandy returned during a break in her classes at the nearby Oakland Community College in search of a vegetarian cookbook to help in her efforts to switch to a plant-based diet and still get enough protein.
“We just figured if we can try a used bookstore we’d find what we were looking for,” she says before vowing to become a regular at the new shop.
Paper Trail opened in August 2017 under the ownership of brothers Dave, 38, and Scott, 40, Brown. The brothers grew up in Troy and both have a love of reading, worked previously in bookstores (Dave at Borders, Half Price Books and an independent shop in Alaska, and Scott at Barnes & Noble) and moved back to Michigan to open their business.
“We have long wanted to open a bookstore,” says Dave Brown as he sips coffee while seated at a table covered with board games as Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther” soundtrack plays on a turntable behind the counter.
His affinity for music may be explained by his music degree from the University of Illinois in Chicago; Scott attended Michigan State University and graduated with an agriculture-related degree.
The music, coffee, comfortable seating, and events such as a series of poetry readings and an occasional book signing all offer the unspoken message: Customers are welcome to come in and stay awhile. Book clubs have yet to approach the owners, but they’d welcome hosting groups who want to discuss what they’ve read.
The shop’s tidy, well-organized shelves are in alphabetical order by author and labeled by genre to make browsing its 20,000 titles, as well as searching for a specific book, easy. Titles range from a signed edition of “Escape Velocity” by “True Grit” author Charles Portis to beach reads and include books for children as well as adults.
Prices range from less than $1 for selections on the clearance rack to hundreds of dollars for a collectible. If asked, the brothers will keep an eye out for a specific title for customers. Paper Trail’s 19,000 square feet of space also holds a smattering of vinyl, CDs and DVDs.
The brothers picked their location on South Washington in Royal Oak after looking at multiple properties in the surrounding area two Christmases ago.
Paper Trail Books
414 S. Washington
Royal Oak, MI 48067
As Victoria Knight, manager of mens’ fine apparel store, the St. Croix Shop, precisely folds (with a layer of crisp tissue) a newly arrived, handcrafted sky-blue men’s cotton luxury polo shirt, she warmly greets a customer who, while on a walk downtown, stops in.
Introducing himself as “Tom,” he shares that the spring wardrobe display of coordinated separates that he saw through the window attracted him.
“This is why I’d so strongly urged that it was time for us to leave the mall setting after 24 years and to become part of the Birmingham community,” states Knight. “We came to Birmingham TO our clients. They run businesses here, they dine here, and they enjoy the community, which we wanted to be part of.”
And Knight has been enthusiastically welcomed into Birmingham’s community.
Richard Astrein, long-time owner of Astrein’s Creative Jewelers and a committee chair member of Birmingham’s Principal Shopping District, was “ecstatic” about the move.
“I thought St. Croix Shop was a great fit for the district,” Astrein said. “Downtown Birmingham is an exciting place. There’s a lot happening here. In a mall, you might have more traffic or even more business but, with costs per square foot, are you going to make more money?”
He adds, “I’ve been a customer of St. Croix Shop for a long time. Their sweaters and shirts wear so well! I particularly like the ‘quarter-zip pullover.’ I recently went through my closet and counted 28 St. Croix sweaters! It will be great having them just down the street.”
Ingrid Tighe, executive director of the Principal Shopping District, had worked with Knight and St. Croix Shop in her previous position at The Somerset Collection and, Knight says, has been a great support.
“The Birmingham Shopping District is thrilled to welcome St. Croix to our downtown,” said Tighe. “This luxury menswear store is a nice complement to the wide selection of retailers we have in Birmingham. We look forward to St. Croix’s continued success in our community.”
Knight and her weekend assistant, Michael Hill, were determined to open the Birmingham store as quickly as they could, after leaving The Somerset Collection this January.
“We packed on a Friday, unpacked on Saturday and, by Wednesday, we opened,” Knight says. “We didn’t mess around!”
Their move was to a 650 square-foot, temporary “pop-up” location four doors down from the 1300 square-foot spot that will be their new home at the end of April.
“The sequence of events was amazing,” shares Knight. “I found my dream spot on Maple Road and, working things out with the property owner – who also happened to own the “pop-up” spot we were able to land in – we will soon be in the perfect, permanent location.”
Meanwhile, with creativity, a great staff, and a passion for St. Croix’s products, Knight has created a space where customers can enjoy a unique, boutique shopping experience.
“These luxury clothing items speak for themselves,” Knight says, “but it is our job to educate shoppers and to provide a ‘Wow!’ experience. Once people realize how these clothes are created – and that most are machine-washable and American-made (sweaters are Italian-made), with details like lay-flat collars and hand stitching, and that they last 40-50 years! – they often become customers for life.”
“One of my greatest pleasures,” adds Knight, “is providing service to generations of families as they continue to shop at St. Croix Shop – or even come in wearing a timelessly styled, handcrafted sweater or shirt that’s been passed down to them.”
In addition to sharing the company’s background and the acumen of its founder, master knitter Bernhard Brenner, Knight and her staff think creatively when there is a logistical problem or issue.
“I’ve been a customer of Victoria’s at St. Croix since 2010,” says Allyn McManama. “Her abilities in sales are matched with her shrewd business sense.”
“For example,” he says, “when major road construction commenced in front of the store location, she took the initiative to…alert all current customers that her store would waive all shipping fees for orders placed with that store in exchange for this inconvenience.”
“She even,” he continues, “provided an alternative route for customers to avoid construction and traffic to the store.”
Victoria smiles as she recalls such challenges.
“That’s part of what makes us so unique,” she says. “Our customers are like family and so are the members of the St. Croix Shop company. Bernie, our founder, works very hard to make the best product, and we all have the passion to share that product – and unparalleled, individual service – here, now, in Birmingham and through our seven other boutiques in the U.S.A.”
Angela Marino is already getting calls about her homemade tomato sauce, and it is only April.
“Every time I see someone at a family event,” laughs Marino, who generously makes hundreds of jars of Italian pasta sauce every summer to share with family, “they say, ‘I only have two jars left!’ or, ‘When will you be planting – or picking! – your Telly’s tomatoes?’”
Marino, a Troy resident, has been growing tomato plants from Telly’s Greenhouse on John R., just north of Big Beaver Road, for over twenty years.
“I wouldn’t buy my Roma tomato seedlings from anywhere else!” Marino exclaims. “Telly’s truly cares about every plant and every customer.”
George Papadelis, owner of Telly’s Greenhouse, recounts the start of the business, celebrating its 40th year.
“Our next-door neighbor here on John R.,” he shares, “was a woman who had greenhouses in the ‘50s and ‘60s and grew things for markets. There was a large ditch between our properties that my father offered to fill in but, stubbornly, our neighbor refused.”
“When she passed away, my dad bought her property in 1977 – to fill in the ditch – and he said, ‘Why don’t we fix up one of the greenhouses so you and your brother can grow plants?’”
That spring, George and his brother, Mark, then ages eleven and ten, sowed seeds and grew and sold their plants (Mark Papadelis is the owner of Telly’s Tree and Shrub, a separate, adjacent business).
“We made a thousand dollars,” George says, “and we used the money to travel to Greece.”
George continued to work the business throughout his teens.
“There was no time for spring sports in high school but, if my friends needed money, there was always work for them during our season.”
When George went to college at the University of Michigan, he’d return home to work weekends and vacations at the greenhouse.
“I did well in college and planned to go to medical school. I told myself that, after graduation, I’d take one year off and, with no sports or school, I’d try just working at the greenhouse before starting the medical school process.”
He did just that and decided to remain with the business.
“Being at Telly’s is still a little like being a doctor,” George concedes, explaining, “You have to really know your stuff and know what’s new. You’re always helping people.”
“And,” he chuckles, “you’re always worried: ‘Is it warm enough for them (the plants)? Is it wet – or dry – enough? You and your staff are hard-working and disciplined and committed to the plants and to your customers.”
And, if Telly’s customers tell him about a plant they’d like to have, George makes sure he gets it for them.
“Ever since the start,” says George, “we’ve always offered different plants that customers request, ones more unique and interesting than regular ‘bread-and-butter’ ones – though we offer those, too, of course.”
“We’ve got an ornamental kale here,” he describes, “and it’s not formed as one large head. It’s on a stem with a floret at the top, and it can be in a vase, like a cut flower and looks like a rose. It’s called ‘crane’ and is very striking and beautiful.”
“There are a thousand or so things that we have that you don’t find at just any garden center, and that’s why people shop at Telly’s.”
“I’ve been buying plants from Telly’s for 30 years,” says Troy resident Craig Smith, “and this year, I told him I’d like to grow cucamelons, a tiny, edible vine fruit that tastes like cucumbers with a touch of sourness. Of course, he got me growing them.”
“And George has been providing the most beautiful seasonal flowers and plants for my parish for years, including palms for this year’s Palm Sunday.”
Smith, who is a master gardener and leads gardening activities for children on Saturdays at the Oakland County Farmer’s Market, adds, “George always donates the plants and seeds we use for the kids,” Smith says, adding, “and he’s extremely generous with his time, too.”
“When my home was in the Troy Garden Walk, George came over and helped me prepare by advising unique plants for eye-catching areas of the garden. There’s no other place in this world I would buy from.”
George’s staff is also known for being able to advise customers.
“I’ve got the greatest crew in the world,” George says. “They truly know the flowers and plants, from planting each of thousands of seedlings into their final pots and labeling them in our Shelby Township greenhouse to their care in the stores.”
“Most of our staff have been here for years and have become very knowledgeable about what we sell, including over fifty new garden annuals and perennials, as well as herbs and vegetables, succulents, specialty plants for bonsai and fairy gardens, and so much more.”
“Plus,” he adds, “I’m so fortunate that my mom and dad, Niki and Gust, still get their hands dirty helping out – and my son, Andrew will be joining us, full-time, after he graduates from M.S.U. this spring.”
Along with leading his staff as they organize, label and pot thousands of plants, all with soil that is organic, George provides — and often teaches – events and workshops such as: Succulent Garden Workshop, New Perennials for 2018, Bonsai Workshop, Early-Blooming Hellebores, and Every Garden Deserves a Rose, and he recently taught a Living Wreath workshop.
“All of my employees love plants and people. Yes, all the planning and preparation is a burden to bear. But the intense care for the business, the plants and our customers is what makes Telly’s good.”